Saturday, 26 July 2014

Do we make luck - or is luck pure chance? by Jenny Harper

I've been thinking a lot about this question over the last couple of weeks. After all, I've just signed a four-book deal with Accent Press and I feel like the luckiest person alive. But was it luck? Or have I earned it?

In an effort to find out what others think, I have been digging around a bit. Journalist Marianne Power, in an article in The Mail in 2012, wrote, 'Serendipity is defined as a chance encounter or accident that leads to a happy – sometime life-changing – conclusion.' She discusses some recent research analysing people's good luck stories – which came to the conclusion that yes, there has to be an element of serendipity (that chance meeting, the fact that you wore such and such a dress on a certain day that got you noticed by the modelling agency etc etc) – but that to be 'lucky' you also need to be open to the opportunities that come your way.

Now, we all know what the publishing world is like right now. It's getting harder and harder for authors to get picked up by the big publishers, a few indies are making shedloads of money, most are working their butts off to sell a handful of copies. I've been feeling that I've entered this mad, mad world at just the wrong time. But being the person I am, I have persevered. Here are some of the steps that led to the 'chance encounter' that got me a contract:

Lucky step 1)
I joined the Romantic Novelists' Association at the suggestion of my friend and mentor Anita Burgh. I decided to 'pay forward' by contributing my expertise as a magazine designer and editor to the RNA, and taking on the design and production of Romance Matters.

Lucky step 2)
After a while I decided to stand for the committee. Again, I have been on a great many committees in my time, and felt I had something to contribute. The wonderful Katie Fforde serendipitously saw some logo designs mistakenly hidden among a sheaf of magazine designs, and set in motion a complete rebranding (again, part of my expertise). I took charge. More 'paying forward' – but also, incidentally, forging great relationships along the way.

Lucky step 3)
Through the RNA, I made friends. Many, many friends. Their support was inestimable. I made the effort to go to parties (in London), to conferences (all over the country, though never in Scotland). More learning, more networking, more hard work.

Lucky step 4)
I wrote a story for consideration for the RNA's Truly, Madly, Deeply anthology. It was accepted. This jolted me into publishing a couple of my novels that had not managed to see the light of day. Whatever you think of the books themselves, I made sure that they were as professionally produced as possible. A lifetime in the business stood me in good stead.

Lucky step 5)
I went to another RNA Conference, this time in Shropshire, 250 miles from home. I was introduced to Hazel Cushion, founder and MD of Accent Press. I wasn't pitching to her, merely telling her who I was and what I was doing. I showed her my fliers for my two books. She asked more. I told her of my plans to publish a third in September - and that Katie Fforde had kindly offered me a shout line for the cover. The long and the short of all that was - she offered me a contract and I am now an Accent Press author!

So: luck or hard work? Serendipity or planning?

I'm reminded of golfer Gary Player (or Arnold Palmer, or Lee Trevino - no-one can quite agree on this!) who, when someone commented on how lucky his putts were, said dryly, 'The more I practice the luckier I get.' The parallel I'm making is that I've worked very hard for this - not just by writing my books, but by offering my expertise to a great community of writers which, in turn, enabled me to forge a network of friendships that led me, inexorably, that evening, to Hazel Cushion and Accent Press.

Yes: the more I work at it all, the luckier I get. That's my view - what's yours?


  1. Great post, Jenny and I totally agree with what you say, especially about being open to opportunities - and, of course, the hard work!
    I spent ten years working in Pakistan and Afghanistan, whcih came about totally by chance and my willingness to grab an opportunity.

    1. And look what came out of it - not only a fantastic experience, AND what you contributed to the health of women there, but a couple of great books as well!

  2. I completely agree Jenny. This is not just true in writing, but in life. People often say how lucky Dave and I are to live in our wonderful house - and we are lucky but it's also taken LOTS of hard work (actually it still does!). So pleased you've got the 'luck' you deserve.

  3. Sometimes it's a fine balance, isn't it? We all work hard (well, most of us do), but sometimes there is that little extra bit of being in the right place at the right time too...

  4. I tried to leave a comment yesterday but it seems to have disappeared! You've shown how much hard work, serendipity and a modicum of luck go hand in hand at times, Jenny!

  5. Hard work AND talent, PLUS positive thinking = luck, Jenny - well that's what I was told when I couldn't believe my luck finding a publisher! Great post and long may your beacon shine....:)

  6. That's a great formula, Linda! I'll hang onto that! Thanks.

  7. Congratulations - I have to agree with Linda here! You obviously deserve your 'luck.'

    1. Thanks! Guess you fall into the 'you make your own luck' camp then!

  8. I agree with all of the above - but you haven't mentioned 'talent' and you have that in abundance.